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Best Practice Tips: Law Firm Owners as Businesspersons


Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am the owner of a six-attorney elder law firm in Dallas. I manage the firm and practice law. I am finding it more and more difficult to do both. I would like to shift my time totally to managing the practice. I would appreciate your thoughts.       

A. You are not alone. This is a common problem in law and other professional service firms. I have similar problems in my own firm — it is very difficult to serve two masters — serving your clients and managing your firm. Eventually you have to pick one — client service (doing legal work) or managing and running your business — as the area that receives your primary focus. This is not to say that you should not do both — but you select the primary area that you are going to focus on and get help with the other area.

A question that I typically ask my new law firm clients is, “What do you want to be: A business person or a lawyer?” The answer to the question often provides a hint to how you should structure your firm. If you want to be more of a business person, hire legal talent to help with serving clients and performing legal work and spend more time working on your firm rather than in it. If you want to be a lawyer and do legal work and serve clients, hire a legal administrator or business manager (this is more than an office manager) to manage and run your firm.

I have more and more owners of small law firms that are managing their law businesses and not practicing law. I believe the appropriate direction is what makes you happy and what type of work you enjoy doing. Your practice should support and fulfill your personal goals, what you want out of life, and what makes you happy. If that is managing, then manage. If that is doing legal work, do legal work.

Two great books on this subject are The E-Myth Revisited and The E-Myth Attorney. The theme of both of these books is:

  • Work on your business rather than in it.
  • Small business owners wear three hats — entrepreneur (10 percent), manager (20 percent), and technician (70 percent).

Small business owners often spend too much time being the technician (i.e., lawyering) and not enough time managing and innovating.

Think about where you want place the priority of your focus — working on firm (business) or in it.

John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John

Posted on Jul 19, 2017 by Sara Anderson | Comments (0)
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